[Paul Nation and Casey Malarcher. Santa Fe Springs, CA: Compass Publishing, 2007. pp. 113. ¥1,575 (incl. downloadable MP3 files). ISBN: 978-1-59966-100-1.]
Reading for Speed and Fluency 1is the lowest level of a four-level series written to help learners of English read at a normal, comfortable reading speed, of around 250 words per minute. This is the same speed that the average American college student reads English, and it is not the goal of level one, but for the whole series. This one book alone is unlikely to produce native-like readers of English in the Japanese EFL context, but may be a means to help students get closer to the ideal speed. The book consists of eight thematically arranged chapters, all of which contain a set of vocabulary-based preview exercises and five short readings. The preview exercises are designed to pre-teach any vocabulary that may slow the learner’s reading speed, and they also serve the purpose of activating schematabefore the reading begins. The reading passages are ordered in a way that facilitates comprehension of the subsequent passages in the chapter.
The non-culturally specific schematarequired by students to use the book made it suitable for EFL students at the tertiary level in Japan. The readings were designed to be easy so the student level needed to be carefully considered. Unfortunately no guidelines were provided. The textbook was used with two intermediate level university classes and two low intermediate level junior college classes. Some of the low intermediate students found the book slightly too difficult, making it inappropriate for the class as a whole. The intermediate level university students appeared to be of a suitable level, and did not have to worry too much about vocabulary and focused on their reading speed.
Each of the readings consists of 300words, and it can only be speculated that this arbitrary number was chosen to make calculation of reading speeds easier. This is a serious concern, as longer passages or even stories would surely give students more chance to improve their reading. This clearly is not extensive reading (ER) in the usual sense, but neither is it intensive. It can be inferred that the authors envisage the book being used as a complement to ER.Tanaka and Stapleton (2007), using this kind of combined approach, found that studying shorter reading passages in class when combined with ER texts outside of class produced statistically significant improvementsin reading speed and comprehension.
Students record their reading times on a chart at the back of the book,from which they can find out their reading speed in words per minute. They also record their score on a five-question test, the purpose of which is to check that they have understood each reading. Reading speed does steadily improve,giving students a sense of achievement. In a recent study using this type of activity, Crawford (2008) found that timed reading was an effective means of developing reading rates. He cautioned, though, that further research needs to be done before any strong recommendations can be made, and suggested that a combination of timed reading, repeated reading, and extensive reading may be most beneficial to learners.
In addition to the student book, freely downloadable MP3 files for all of the readings are available, extending the book’s possibilities to include listening activities. A recent study by Brown, Waring, and Donkaewbua (2008) shows that students retain significantly more vocabulary when texts are delivered using a reading-while-listening approach, as opposed to a reading-only approach. Using a computer lab for individual practice of reading-while-listening, as well as shadowing and rhythm and intonation practice of the readings, provided useful reinforcement of vocabulary and variety for the students.
An informal discussion was held after using this book in class for six lessons over six weeks, and students felt that it was of benefit to their learning, although many said that two readings in one lesson were enough, suggesting the book would be best as a supplementary text. The students felt the topics were of interest, but were a little bemused by the reading about Elvis Presley. Most of the topics of the readings could be further expanded for class discussion and follow-up activities and,if used along with extensive reading books outside of the class, the book could be used as the basis for a whole course. Choosing the correct level for a class could be difficult;however, if successfully done, Reading for Speed and Fluency could be a useful tool to help develop reading speed.
Brown, R., Waring, R., & Donkaewbua, S. (2008). Incidental vocabulary acquisition from reading, reading-while-listening, and listening to stories. Reading in a Foreign Language, 20(2), 136-163.
Crawford, M. J. (2008). Increasing reading rate with timed reading. The Language Teacher, 32(2), 3-7.
Tanaka, H., & Stapleton, P. (2007). Increasing reading input in Japanese high school EFL classrooms: An empirical study exploring the efficacy of extensive reading. Reading Matrix, 7(1), 115-131. Retrieved February 2, 2009, from <www.readingmatrix.com/articles/tanaka_stapleton/article.pdf>